Leaders Who Inspire Freedom

Fresh off Independence Day, freedom is much on our minds. While our celebrations may have been smaller or closer to home this year, it was still an opportunity, as Thomas Jefferson said, “to let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollection of these rights, and our undiminished devotion to them.” 

To be free in the sense of our founding fathers was to be free of British rule. But what does freedom mean today in the context of leadership? And how do you know if you’re a leader who inspires freedom in other people? 

Well, one way is to look at the behavior of your followers. Under your leadership, which of these freedoms do they enjoy?

Freedom of Choice. In your company, are people and teams free to do the work that they believe matters most? Can they make decisions about their projects and priorities, or do they wait for you to set direction and assign them tasks? Freedom rarely flourishes in an atmosphere of control. 

Freedom of Expression. Freedom-inspiring leaders encourage people to speak their minds. They use constructive feedback for their own learning and reward courageous authenticity in their teams. How often do your followers approach you in disagreement? That’s one mark of how you’re leading.

Freedom of Movement. Do your people have opportunities to travel down new roads of learning? Are they free to leave a role or position to take on the challenges of another? And the ultimate test: If someone left the territory of your company, would they later want to return to it? 

Freedom of Failure. The freest person on your team may be the one who acts like they own the place. In some ways that’s what you want – people who are willing to take risks and don’t always ask for your permission first. That’s a sign you’ve created a culture where people are free to try and safe to fail. 

In the context of the workplace, freedom doesn’t mean giving people license to do whatever they want. In fact, greater responsibility and accountability are often the product of these freedoms. It’s up to leaders to find ways to foster them.